News, links and observations about Latin America from Times correspondents

Posted in Latin America | 27-Apr-07 | Source: Los Angeles Times

Vicente Fox visits San Diego

Mexico’s globe-trotting former president, Vicente Fox, visited San Diego yesterday for an awards ceremony where he talked tough against the proposed U.S.-Mexico border fence and took a veiled swipe at his old nemesis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Fox has kept a busy public schedule since leaving office five months ago. He came to San Diego after giving a speech at the European Parliament. At the U.S. Grant Hotel ballroom downtown, Fox got several standing ovations and accepted an award from the Institute of the Americas for his commitment to democratic principles.

Fox plans on building the first Mexican presidential library and said he will “ride his horse of democracy” to South America to promote social policies. Though he praised some South American leftist presidents, he criticized “messianic, dictatorial” leaders.

“I don’t accept demagoguery as an easy answer to poverty,” said Fox, in an obvious reference to Chavez, with whom he had tense relations. The former president saved his most impassioned remarks for U.S. plans to build a fence along the border.

He noted that his own grandfather, a Cincinnati-born U.S. citizen who moved to Mexico, embodied the immigrant experience that enriches nations. “I can’t understand why a democratic nation, the champion of democracy and freedom, is building a wall,” said Fox.

Posted by Richard Marosi.

Hollywood has Bolivia abuzz.

News that Warner Brothers has scooped up the feature rights to an acclaimed documentary about Bolivia’s contentious 2002 presidential elections has caused a stir. La Razon newspaper, La Paz.

The trade publication Variety reported this week that George Clooney’s production company, Smoke House, would remake “Our Brand Is Crisis,” the riveting 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton.

The original film examines the hotly contested 2002 Bolivian elections and the candidacy of the much-criticized Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a longtime U.S. resident nicknamed “Goni.” On Sanchez de Lozada’s behalf, a team of Democratic political consultants — including James Carville, the ex-campaign aide to Bill Clinton — superimposed U.S.-style electoral tactics in the impoverished South America nation.

Bolivian critics called Sanchez de Lozada a U.S. henchman who spoke Spanish with a North American accent. He was elected president in a congressional runoff after receiving less than 25% of the popular vote. Sanchez de Lozada resigned in 2003 and fled the country amid a popular uprising.

The current Bolivian government, led by leftist President Evo Morales, who finished second in the 2002 balloting, is seeking Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition from the United States in connection with dozens of deaths during protests that chased the former leader from Bolivia.

Posted by Patrick J. McDonnell and Andrés D’Alessandro in Buenos Aires.

Mexican election

Mexico’s highest election court took a big step this week toward resolving the remaining controversy from last July’s presidential election. The final count gave conservative Felipe Calderon a margin of victory of less than 1 percentage point over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The leftists demanded a recount of all 41 million votes, but Mexico’s election court refused to grant one. After the final court decision that named Calderon the winner, John Ackerman, an American-born law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and other academics and writers then filed suit in an attempt to gain access to the ballots. Their aim was to study the ballots, and perhaps conduct a partial recount, arguing that such an exercise would increase public confidence in the result. On Wednesday, the court ruled in a 7-0 decision that the marked ballots are not public documents and need not be made available to the public. The court gave the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the government body charged with running the country’s elections, 48 hours to rewrite the initial ruling that denied Ackerman access to the ballots, saying the officials had failed to provide adequate legal arguments for denying the petition. But the judges’ ruling made it clear that after IFE officials comply with that formality, they can destroy the ballots, as required by Mexican law.

Story link:

Posted by Hector Tobar in Mexico City.

Subtlety takes a holiday from Argentina's politics

Noticias, the leading Argentine news-weekly, regularly assails Argentine President Nestor Kirchner as a bullying populist who tolerates little opposition to his way of doing things

But, for its cover story this week on Kirchner’s governing style, Noticias chose an unusual illustration: two giraffes in the act of mating.

The inspiration, Noticias explained in an editor’s note, was a celebrated 1994 edition of the British weekly The Economist. Beneath the headline, ``The trouble with mergers,’’ that Economist cover featured an illustration of two camels in a similar predicament.

``Discarding photos of lions, turtles and penguins, Noticias opted for the stylized image of the male giraffe on top of the female giraffe, which reflects with such brutality and beauty our chief of state’s way of relating,’’ the magazine explained. ``And that of those who opt to submit themselves, out of pleasure or necessity.’’

Posted by Patrick J. McDonnell and Andrés D’Alessandro in Buenos Aires

Translating the words of love

How do you say "I love you" in Chile? Let us count the ways. Or wait, there are just too many, especially if you're a poet.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Chile's most famous maestro of meter and a national icon, penned some of the 20th-century's most stirring verses about love (among many other themes). Much of his work is so inherently musical that modern bands have set it to haunting rock and folk arrangements.

But there's lots more to Chilean poetry than Pablo, as one contributor to this exchange at Harvard's indispensable Global Voices Online project points out. You can start, as one blog poster does, with Gabriela Mistral, another Chilean Nobel Prize winner for literature. And let's not forget Nicanor Parra, or his younger sibling and musical wordsmith Violetta Parra, the Joan Baez of the Southern Cone.

Global Voices, which provides English-language translations of blogs across the world, allows you to read many comments in the original Spanish side by side with English, including some lines from Neruda's famous "Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada" ("Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair").

Posted by Reed Johnson in Mexico City

Lopez Obrador gains a vote

Mexico’s losing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador got a new supporter early Tuesday: Jose Maria Lopez Muller.

Lopez Obrador’s newest son was born to Beatriz Gutierrez Muller, a 38-year-old journalist who married Lopez Obrador last fall. She’d said in an interview last year that she hoped the 53-year-old former Mexico City mayor would lose the election, rather than sacrifice their personal lives on behalf of the country.

She got her wish. And angry Lopez Obrador followers took over Mexico City’s main boulevard for weeks in protest after he narrowly lost last July’s election. Lopez Obrador, who was widowed with three sons, had promised more help to the poor.

Posted by Sam Enriquez in Mexico City

A mayor ready for his closeup

More than 700 people are believed to have been killed so far this year in the battle between Mexico’s east and west coast drug gangs and their affiliates.

Police and politicians are said to be coerced into cooperating through this menacing offer: Lead or gold? Everyone understands the choice is between a bullet or a bribe.

So the 50,000 constituents of Jesus Velazquez, the mayor of Guadalupe y Calvo, probably have mixed feelings about hizzoner taking a movie role as a farmer-turned drug mafioso, even if it is in a straight-to-DVD film. (movie still above)

Authorities said 61 people were killed this year in Velazquez’s state of Chihuahua, which includes the notorious smugglers’ city of Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

“In the beginning, I didn’t want to do it,” he told the Excelsior newspaper. “I didn’t like the movie’s theme. I thought, ‘How can I appear in such a movie while being mayor?’ But in the end I thought, a movie’s just a movie. I don’t think anyone is going to think what I’m acting is real.”

Posted by Carlos Martinez in Mexico City

The gentrification of Latin resort towns

Quick, what do these three Latin American cities have in common: 1) San Miguel de Allende, Mexico 2) Antigua, Guatemala 3) Cartagena de Indias, Colombia?

Answer: They're exquisite, colonial-era towns, islands of affluence in the middle of deprivation, that some worry are in danger of becoming private playgrounds for the wealthy and foreign tourists.

San Miguel and Antigua have been grappling with the trade-offs of their soaring popularity for years, and authors like Tony Cohan have written sensitively and perceptively about the delicate social ecosystems of these rare places.

The new kid on the block is Cartagena, a coastal Caribbean port, relatively safe by Colombian standards, with cobbled streets, resplendent architecture and a rich history that has made it a favorite of sight-seers and film makers. But as the Times reported in February, some fear that more cruise liners and soaring real estate prices linked to a construction boom are threatening the unique character of the so-called Heroic City, particularly its beautiful historic center.

Now the Colombian magazine Noventaynueve has weighed in with an editorial, arguing the need for better, more thoughtful planning by city officials in promoting Cartagena as a cultural destination -- and not just a destination for outside visitors. Among other points, the editorial says that the majority of Cartagena's local residents are "ignorant of the festivals that are going on in our house." Further, it says that many of these cultural events occur at times of day, and are priced at levels, that are "little accessible for the majority."

Any recent travelers out there care to comment?

Posted by Reed Johnson in Mexico City

Violence triggers travel advisory for Mexico

The U.S. State Department has renewed travel advisories to Mexico because of continuing violence and kidnappings, particularly in border cities under siege by warring drug gangs.

Visitors are warned to “stay in well-known tourist destinations and tourist areas of the cities with more adequate security.” High profile killings in Acapulco and the business capital of Monterrey have included those cities on the warning list. Don’t flash jewelry or wads of cash, the government warns; leave your itinerary with loved ones before you leave; stay on main highways; avoid demonstrations.

The advisory was issued by Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico who married the country’s richest woman, the billionaire heiress to a Mexican beer empire. Being a Mexican American of humble origins who blew into town and snagged the country’s most eligible bachelorette seems to have amplified resentment against Garza’s various travel warnings over the past two years.

The timing on this one, days after the Virginia Tech slayings, didn’t help.

The Reforma newspaper on Friday ran a cartoon with the caption, “Warning: Mexico is too dangerous!” over the image of a young man pointing two handguns.

Posted by Sam Enriquez in Mexico City

New developments in cricket coach death

Authorities in Jamaica have postponed today’s inquest into the death last month of Pakistan’s cricket coach, claiming to have discovered ``new and significant developments’’ in what has so far been presumed a murder case.

The body of Bob Woolmer, a South African national, was discovered in his Kingston hotel room a day after his team, which had been favored to advance to the final rounds of the 2007 Cricket World Cup now under way, was eliminated with a loss to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day.

Jamaica’s daily Gleaner newspaper had speculated the inquest was put off due to the security demands on police surrounding the semi-final cricket match to be played in Kingston’s Sabina Park stadium on Tuesday.

But a statement from the Jamaican Justice Ministry disclosed Saturday that the investigation under way with the aid of Scotland Yard, Pakistan security officials and Interpol has encountered fresh leads in the coach’s death.

Posted by Carol J. Williams in Miami